As I was leaving the Chicago Art Institute Monday, those were the words I heard from a young boy being guided into the museum by his parents. I had to laugh of course at the plain simple innocence of that statement. Hopefully some of it will grow on him as he grows.
So why was I at the Art Institute? This week, the museum is free to visitors so everyone has an equal opportunity to see the newly created Modern Art wing. In just a few words-it’s stunning. Obviously if you don’t have an interest or appreciation for the modernist style/movement you may not be inclined, but I love art and took advantage of this special week to dive in.
The new wing is a three-story rectangular space. A lot of the walls and the ceiling are glass with white material to mute the sunlight giving everything a bright but not blinding look. There is less to view on the lowest floor (smaller rooms with some video/photography on the right and art inspired by nature on the left (when looking down the hall from the interior entrance-it looks like you can also alternatively enter from the exterior across from Grant Park.
We decided to start at the top floor and work our way down floor-by-floor and I think that’s what I would recommend. Some of the work you’ll have seen elsewhere including works by Picasso and Pollack. Now at “home” in a special section, they take their place amongst Chagall, Magritte, Dali, etc. I saw many works I was familiar with and many I’d never seen before. One thing I wasn’t expecting to see was Bruce Nauman’s “Clown Torture.”
My brother had seen this video installation ages ago and like he I find it particular hard to describe the awful clown assault on your senses. You hear it before you see it-in the distance and then closer and closer you begin to make out someone yelling “No….NO!….NO!….No” (alternating yelling and speaking it). The special room housing this piece has videos going on 3 sides. To your left is what appears to be a CCTV spying on a clown sitting in a public bathroom stall and just looks like a dirty scary clown. Ahead of you are 4 TVs in all different directions showing a repeated loop of the same clown entering a room towards you through a door as a pail of water falls on him-and repeats over and over. Which leads you to the right hand side of the room where the yelling is coming from. The clown is on the floor in what appears to be an insane asylum floor. He’s not in a straight jacket, but just keeps doing all sorts of positions and yelling “no.” As I walked out, the guard closed her eyes, shaking her head and let her head fall in a sigh. I commented “You poor thing do you have to guard this all day.” She just nodded. Again that’s “Clown Torture.” Not making any of it up. Not really scary but creepy (my girlfriend said it was just “irritating and I’m done” as you left quickly). Of course, you then hear him saying “No” for at least the next room or two.
You can read more about it by clicking here (note-you can search YouTube to see clips of various installations if you dare…). Me…I need to find my special safe place for a moment.
Brilliant modern art or crap-the eternal debate. That next room added to “Clown Torture” represents the current “Modern” movement of art for its own nutty sake. The dare to you the viewer to say it’s “not art.” Any way I digress. I saw so many wonderful things over 3 hours or so.
Rediscovered old friends I hadn’t seen in awhile and found “new” works by them as well (“White Crucifixion” by Chagall (1938)-a powerful painting about Antisemitism in Germany in the 1930s-that’s art-a statement against tyranny in the midst of rising Nazism (see it here). Couldn’t help but be moved.
You can see a selection of the works by clicking here.
If you live in Chicago-no debate-go see this-free through 5/22! If you’re visiting in the future-add this to your list. The Art Institute is just one of many reasons why Chicago is my favorite city. Learn more about the Modern Wing here.